Investigators believe that the baby son of a New York television producer contracted anthrax when he was taken into ABC's Manhattan offices on 28 September for a birthday party.
The seven-month-old boy, who is being treated for the form of the illness that is absorbed through the skin, was identified as the latest and youngest victim of America's anthrax scare late on Monday.
The Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, and an ABC executive, David Westin, made the child's case public shortly after his condition was confirmed by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The mother, a freelance producer with ABC's news division, had taken the baby boy to ABC's offices and studio complex on West 66th Street on the Friday in question for a colleague's birthday party.
The next day, the boy developed a high temperature. His left arm swelled up and an ulcer appeared on one elbow. Nothing was known about the anthrax alert in America at the time and his mother assumed he had been bitten by a spider.
She took the boy to a paediatrician and on 1 October, he was admitted to the New York University Medical Centre for treatment. After that, his condition deteriorated markedly, leaving doctors baffled. Reportedly, it was only after the first case of anthrax in New York surfaced last Friday at the NBC network that a decision was taken to take a biopsy from the boy and send it to the Atlanta-based CDC for testing.
By yesterday, however, the boy was reported to be doing far better after responding to penicillin. He was already back at home with his mother. Doctors cannot prescribe Cipro, the more common medicine for anthrax, to young children.
"This mother is being very brave. She is encouraged because her baby is doing much better and it looks like things will be fine," Mr Westin, the president of ABC news, said, adding that the names of both mother and child were being withheld to maintain their privacy.
Mr Westin said the child's illness had remained a mystery for some time. "They were unusual symptoms that appeared to be linked to an infection ... The hospital, I believe, had some difficulty diagnosing this."
How the boy came into contact with the anthrax was still unknown last night. Nor were officials able to say with certainty that he had contracted anthrax at ABC, although it was considered likely. At NBC, an assistant to the nightly news reader, Tom Brokaw, became ill after handling a powder containing anthrax that arrived in a letter. She is also recovering.
The mayor sent bioterrorist clean-up teams into ABC to hunt for anthrax on Monday night. Similar teams were sent to other news organisations in New York, including the Associated Press news agency, CNN and Fox News, as well as the mailrooms of the city's two tabloid rivals, the Daily News and the New York Post.
"We did that really as a preventive measure," Mr Giuliani said on ABC TV's Good Morning America show yesterday. No anthrax had been found at any of the locations, he said.Reuse content